It is always tempting to overdo the Doom and Gloom. Any readers exposed to the recent WI piece by Mr Eardley might be forgiven for packing away their troops, conducting a ceremonial burning of their games table and taking up embroidery. Yaroo! It’s all up for us! Run for the hills! Personally, I was left wondering what the point of the piece was: both from the writer’s perspective, and from the publisher’s. If I may, as a reader, attempt to summarise a multi- thousand word epic into a few lines, the main complaints seemed to be that things aren’t what they were (true of almost all areas of life…) and there is a big conspiracy out there to make us buy better and more expensive troops, shunning our lovingly painted oldies. Oh, and those evil Americans are out to conquer Blighty with the 82nd Airborne (Marketing) Division. A subject worthy of an X Files movie length special, you will agree, and not a little controversial. And also, it must be said, completely barmy.
I had never even considered that this is a hobby wherein there is an obligation to upgrade your troops. Must have missed that day at the club. That I and many people do so, of their own free will, is simply a statement that they have changed period, or prefer another make of models, have improved their painting standards or figure demands, got bored, or simply collect figures rather than play. To say this is a conspiracy presented to us by the hard working and underpaid producers is ludicrous. It is also tantamount to saying that the phenomenal progress in figure design is A Bad Thing. Would Mr Eardley prefer us still to have the choice of Airfix, Minifigs, Garrison or early Hinchliffe? “Will that be with excessive flash lines and pitting, or without, Sir? Oh yes, that is the light infantry shako, but being a shapeless blob it just looks a bit like the line. Mmmm, well, he is a Companion but I think you could use him as a Hun – no one will notice.”
Agreed, there were always those who could (and did) afford Willie or Hinton Hunt figures but, again, that was their decision. To this day you are free to buy plastic figures at pennies per unit (with some damn fine sculpting on offer), excellent value second-hand figures, bargain priced brands, 15 mils, even 6 mils, or the more expensive items. You can even, like me, buy the occasional Citadel miniature as a special treat. You pays your money… It is an unfettered market in which you have a choice, as our recently departed government was fond of saying, to commit your funds to whatever vice you wish. And if funds don’t permit, well, I guess it is no more inaccessible than most hobbies. Personally, I am thankful that we have that many options and, as I’ve said before, I’ll take ten classy figures rather than 30 iffy specimens. Each to his own, but I still don’t see any peer pressure one way or the other.
And as for there being any element of ‘hard sell’ at shows, I must have been in a different time-space continuum for the last twenty years. I have never experienced, or seen, hard sell anywhere. Almost without exception, the hobby is a solid bastion of anti-marketing experts. Most traders are distinctly reticent and need to be spoken to before a response is forthcoming. Even those who think they are great salesmen (no names, no waistcoats) might be surprised at an independent assessment of their PR machine. Indeed, some folk specialise in hiding behind their stands, evading sales all day! Whatever, you can sidle up and chat to these fine people, who then usually crack and are happy to discuss anything and, if absolutely necessary, take some money off you. And remember almost all of these people are doing it as a second string job, and will happily share in their unbounded enthusiasm. For what else drives people to give up their evenings casting and sculpting or keeping accounts, their weekends driving hired vans all over the country, only to sweat through lugging tons of lead or books around for our delectation? Ahh, that would be down to the huge gobs of cash to be had. Hoho.
And on that point, we come back to the truism that probably only the very highest priced figures are making much money out of all this effort. Effort from which we the consumers constantly benefit in the shape of modern masterpieces, for every conceivable period (and then some). I wouldn’t have it any other way and I admire their skill and energy. Mr Eardley however makes the point that the manufacturers should reduce their prices so that he can afford them. Sadly, unlike the housing market in the late eighties, where even the highest paid first time buyer couldn’t afford a house, I don’t detect the same market forces driving prices down. In fact, they could well go up. I’d like to stand corrected by any manufacturers, but I assume this is a reasonably perfect market, and figures can be priced to what the market will stand (bearing in mind that Games Workshop operate in a different area). If anything, I would suggest that, generally, figures are priced below that equilibrium level.
So without gushing too much (and fully realising that I sometimes sit here and constructively point out, umm, shall we say ‘shortcomings’?), this is a great hobby. Sure, there are issues both minor and major to be tackled, and we may well be shrinking, but why not approach all this in a positive fashion? I have a pop at WD but deep down I think they mean well, and are keen to progress the genre. I have a dig at certain figure makes, but always with a heavily subjective slant and a hope that they will improve. I have more than a go at a small subset of re-enactors, but they probably deserve it (!). Otherwise, I hope, I spread the word on the good stuff of which their is still a surfeit. The day when I walk round a show, or read WI, and don’t find something to say, “Cor!”, about, that is when I foresee a problem. Until then, I will continue to enjoy it.
And whatever we may think, when reminiscing about our first games, or rose- tinted club nights as teenagers, what was good back then may well have been the novelty. I don’t think there was anything from the 70’s and 80’s that was better than it is now – cheaper perhaps, but not in absolute terms. Figures? Nope, way better now apart from the odd mourned loss. Paints? No contest. Even Humbrol have now moved with the times, and acrylics have revolutionised the hobby. Rules? Still not perfect, but better than ever. More gamers? Not sure, though no shortage at some shows… Books? Enough already! Stop the temptation! Terrain? With the exception of Peter Gilder’s masterworks, better, more easily available and cheaper. Traders? Lots more, I’d think. Diversity? Maori Wars anyone? Shows? Spoilt for choice and a visit to Newark, to name but one, will confirm just how exciting the hobby is. Magazines? Modesty forbids.
I have just watched the first Sharpe in what is billed as the last series. Culminating in his Waterloo, which actually looks halfway decent, I will not be sorry to see it come to an end. Why? Because of the small band of hangers-on that are getting on my nerves (Rifleman Moore so badly wants a BAFTA it is embarrassing) but mainly because, despite the 100% ideal subject matter, these later shows really haven’t been that good. When it gets to the point where there are soldiers leaping off of trampolines as an explosion ‘lands’, and I am able to predict the next corny line in a given conversation, I suspect it is all up. But it would be wrong to dismiss its huge contribution, and I still want to see a Flashman follow up.
The Internet was recently all a buzz with rumours that Robin Williams (yes, that one) has been trundling into a San Francisco game store to buy Warhammer figures. Whether this is true or not, I cannot say but it seems my sources are ‘reliable’ at worst. He favours Eldar forces, I understand, and does all the voices. Of course they may have been for relatives or his kids. I was lead to consider what other celebrity gamers the hobby could claim. Numerous thrash metal bands are into Warhammer, Peter Cushing definitely dabbled, Deryck Guyler is a candidate in the micro-celebrity league and Tom Clancy earned several million off the back of Harpoon in the shape of Red Storm Rising, but I am not sure he actually played. I was stumped to come up with many more. Henry Cecil is meant to have a lot of soldiers, but they may be Britains or similar, and I have never got to the bottom of whether Edward Woodward was a figure gamer in life as well as on screen as ‘Callan’ and in those ancient TV programmes. Any more candidates?
My thanks to those who wrote or emailed (email@example.com) wishing me better health. I seem to have recovered from whatever it was and as I write I am looking forward to Partizan and the other Summer shows, many of which are local. I will also set aside time to get to those reviews of computer rulesets, Piquet, Warhammer, and the latest figure and rule releases I promised months ago. Thanks for your patience.